The chapter 9 of Romans reveals two important truths.
First, only the children of the promise shall live, and the children of the flesh shall perish.
Second, the promise is made and received purely on the ground of God’s mercy, grace and sovereignty, not by the virtue of man’s deeds.
Concerning the first truth, “For this is the word of promise: ‘AT THIS TIME I WILL COME AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.’” Romans 9.9.
We must look beyond our common assumption and understanding of the meaning of words and context when we read the Word of God. The Bible is not merely talking about the story of a son (Isaac, son of Abraham) who was born in a miraculous way (when both parents were far beyond an age of even the slightest possibility of having a child). It is talking about something far greater and universal.
This son, Isaac, was a representation and a single focal point of God’s promise to mankind through Abraham. God did not make such promises to a lot of people and subsequently liked one of the stories so much that he decided to tell us about it in the Bible. Not at all. Isaac is the son of promise. He was the only one that God promised in the way He did. Isaac singularly points to a new mankind that is to be borne out of the Spirit based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Who that is naturally born is a son of flesh, an offspring of first Adam, and is destined to die with no hope in eternity. And this has no difference and no favoritism over any man, but purely a consequence of a choice made by the first Adam.
But who that is supernaturally born of the Spirit is a son of promise, an offspring of the last Adam (Jesus), and is destined to live with a glorious hope in eternity. And this too has no difference and no favoritism over any man, but purely an outcome of of a choice made by the last Adam.
God’s sovereignty. We live in a world that is full of tension between order and chaos, and peace and conflicts. In any conflict, peace emerges only when one of the conflicting sides has the final say. Have you ever considered who has the final say in the end of the great Conflict? Consider God’s sovereignty.
Put in the most basic way, sovereignty means supreme authority and independence, or the highest authority that is not checked or judged by any other power. In plain words, one who has sovereignty may do whatever he desires because there is no higher power to judge him.
For this reason, the word “sovereignty” in our daily language is reserved for an independent country or kingdom and never used in association with an individual person. But even for an independent country, the word sovereignty can only be used in a relative sense and not its absolute sense. The international events we are experiencing in our times vividly demonstrate this point.
Only God has absolute sovereignty. Sovereignty is also where you can tell a difference between the only true God and man-made gods. God is the Creator of the universe. God’s power and essence does not depend on, nor is derived from, man. In contrast, man-made gods may be imagined to be powerful, but the very fact that they are consciously created by human being makes them puppets in essence, the opposite of the sovereign God.
For many theologians, chapter 9 of Romans may appear to be using the history of Israelites to explain the concept of God’s sovereignty. But in reality, the Spirit of God does the opposite. The Spirit explains human history, particularly that of Israelites, using God’s sovereignty.
One either knows God or not. If you do, God’s sovereignty is the very premise and foundation of everything and requires no explanation but instead offers explanation to everything else. If you don’t, speaking of sovereignty of God is a very contradiction to what you believe because a god derived from man’s theory cannot have sovereignty.
As we enter into chapter 9 of Romans, God’s salvation and love is now understood and received under the premise of God’s sovereignty.
How fortunate we are, if you allow me to speak humanly, that God who is sovereign is also full of wisdom and love, for on a pure logic bases a god of sovereignty needs not be also nice. In this fundamental sense, you start to appreciate the gospel because before even the gospel shows the substance of salvation itself, it first shows that the God who is sovereign also happens to be good, in fact all good and purely good. We cannot take this for granted and therefore must give thanks to God on this simple basis alone.
See how the God of wisdom designed and unfolded human history to foretell and to implement His plan of salvation; and see how this plan of salvation is full of divine love, you then truly have heard the gospel — the good news.
In His sovereignty, God has decided that man’s salvation is to be based on a promise made by God, not based on the works of man. Focus on the word “promise”. If we are accustomed to human promises, we don’t treat a promise very seriously, for a promise made by even an honest man may eventually come unfulfilled. But this Promise is no human promise; it is a promise by the Almighty God. This makes the salvation unshakable and irrevocable. Be glad that your future is based on a divine promise and not based on even the best human efforts. I certainly am.
But the promise of God isn’t mere words. The promise is embodied and eventually given to us in a Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to the earth from heaven to bear your sin and my sin and died on the Cross on your behalf and my behalf, and was risen by resurrection three days later.
Receive Jesus, for He is your good news, and the only good news.
Many entertain the thought of his (and others’) ability to reject the gospel and in turn use this ability as a basis to despise God, secretly reasoning: “There must be no God, for otherwise God would make me believe.”
This secret challenge of God sovereignty reminds me an atheist who used to proclaim on a public square, “If there is a god, strike me this very moment by lightning.” But God remains silent, because God has embodied and reserved His sovereignty in His only begotten Son. God does not judge the sinner based on human logic. Man is judged for life or death on the inner altar of his heart for receiving or rejecting the Son of God, rather on a podium of public showings.
The atheist has been condemned, not because of what he said but because of what he is. (But he may still escape the condemnation by confessing his sin and receiving salvation of Jesus Christ before the time is over. See particularly Romans 8.)
The hard truth is, not everyman will enter and receive salvation. This hard truth is not only consistent with but in fact accorded with God’s sovereignty. God promised salvation by faith not by works, but did not promise that everyone will receive this salvation.
On the other hand, man rejects what has been promised yet at the same time tries to force on God what He has not promised. The condition of a man’s heart is such that he dislikes the idea of salvation by grace yet at the same time abhors the idea that not everyone will be saved. Man wants to rely on his own work, but does not want to be judged. In other words, man wants autonomy, and wants to be god, the very ground on which Adam and Eve were deceived. How consistent the story of Adam and his offspring is. It is a story of his pride.
But in God’s infinite wisdom, the gospel is the ultimate and supreme judgment of man’s heart. The proud will reject the gospel because it is foolishness to them. But the humble will receive the gospel because it is the light for them who are in the darkness seeking to see the true light.
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and the rock of offense: and whoever believes in Him shall not be ashamed.”
My friend, every time your heart contemplates the gospel, it may seem that you are making a judgment on the quality and credibility of the gospel, But in reality, it is the gospel that is judging the quality and truthfulness of your heart. Don’t stumble on this stone; don’t be offended by this rock; and don’t harden your heart, lest you be condemned in the final judgment of God.